Limping is a condition that we’ve been talking a lot about around here. It’s never something I personally like to see in my dogs and a condition that I always try to avoid. However, I have giant breed dogs that at some point in time in their life are going to limp for one reason or another so it’s important that I know the facts when dealing with this condition. 

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Please welcome this guest post on limping from Ryean Bishop from Bannock Animal Medical Center.  BAMC is dedicated to providing compassionate care to dogs and their people. They specialize in the treatment of dogs and cats with an open door policy to anyone who wants to learn more about what we do

What to do when a dog is limping

When dogs feel pain in the paw, elbow, shoulder or hip, they will limp to keep weight off the limb. Some dogs may refuse to move much, while others try to stay active and suffer through pain. Because you know your dog better than anyone else, observe carefully to determine whether your pet is in real distress. When the limp doesn’t go away and you don’t see anything obvious, like a thorn in the paw, it’s time to call the veterinarian and get your dog some medical attention.

Observe the Limp

By observing your dog, you can sometimes make educated guesses about which limb is affected. Sometimes the dog will make it obvious and refuse to put any weight at all on the hurting limb. Other times, you must watch for clues. For example, when pain is in a back leg, dogs often hold that leg more foreword than usual. Dogs will also shift weight to the opposite side of the leg pain. Gently examine your dog for any clues, such as a laceration on the paw or a small wound on the leg. All this information can help the veterinarian narrow down the cause of the limp.

Common Causes of Limping

Limping is a dog’s way of avoiding too much weight on one if its limbs. Just like in humans, a limp can be caused by external or internal triggers. Here are some of the more common causes of limping in dogs:

  • Paw lacerations from glass or metal fragments
  • Thorns or stickers in the paw
  • Overgrown or too-short nails
  • Inflamed joints
  • Arthritis
  • Elbow or hip dysplasia, where bone fragments work into the joint
  • Loose cartilage
  • Tendonitis
  • Torn ligaments

When to Call the Vet

If you’re concerned about your dog’s limp, call the veterinarian for a consultation. Describe the symptoms and see whether the vet suggests you bring the dog in right away or if it can wait. Don’t feel embarrassed about calling the vet, even if your dog’s limp turns out to be no big deal. Limping is just one symptom of several major health issues for dogs, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your dog relies on you to take care of his physical needs, including getting him to a professional who can help remedy a limp.

If your pet is showing any signs of distress or you suspect your pet is seriously ill, contact your veterinarian immediately. This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.

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30 Comments on What To Do When Your Dog Is Limping

    • Double ouch! I can only imagine how much that must hurt! Sherman and Leroy have both had their fair share of burrs stuck, but I don’t think they have ever had a thorn!

  1. My sister limps when she first gets up but that is her arthritis and it has gotten better as we have found better meds that suit her. In Florida two years ago, Katie was limping really bad and even did not want to walk. Mom was super worried until she discovered a really tiny sharp burr embedded deep in Katie’s paw. Once she got it out, limp was gone. I’m not limping unless I have ice balls in my paws or sometimes I lay wrong and my leg falls asleep. Good post, though, you humans always have to watch for what is going on with us dogs.
    emma recently posted…My Tales | GBGVMy Profile

    • I’m glad you have found a medication that works well for Katie’s arthritis!

      Sherman has a similar experience with limping a few years back. I freaked out and then found it was due to a mat stuck between his paws! As soon as I cut it out he was all better!

  2. Thanks for this post Jen. We have really active Labs and all of them have displayed limps at many times. With our guys it has been mostly overuse injuries, sprains, etc. but if they don’t heal with rest they can certainly be signs of serious ACL injuries or even bone cancer. So, not to be a Debbie Downer, but limps are serious matters.

  3. My guys are great at telling us when it is just a burr. When it has a different cause, it gets much harder to figure out. Wilson definitely has arthritis so some of his limps are stiffness from that. Poor boy has also had a shoulder issue most of his life that flares up now and again. Sadly, Corgis aren’t the best designed dogs and are plagued by limping issues.
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    • I can imagine with their short legs that they have some concerns when it comes to limping.

      Sorry to hear about Wilson’s arthritis, poor little guy. It’s so hard to see them struggling and I always wish I could something more to help them.

  4. Timely post for us as we have Phantom with off and on limping. He has full range of motion in his right front leg, no obvious indication of where it hurts other than somewhere in the shoulder joint. He is probably going to be xrayed to rule out bone cancer but Mom seems to think it is arthritis. Thanks for the tips.

    Woos – Phantom, Ciara, and Lightning
    Phantom, Ciara, and Lightning recently posted…Thursday TalkMy Profile

    • Poor Phantom! Geesh, you can’t catch a break over there! Sending you lots of hugs and I know what you mean about the shoulder arthritis, Sherman has some of that going on too. I’ve ruled out cancer about 50 times :)

  5. As many of us know, a limp can mean something awful. K’s osteosarcoma first showed up as a limp. I now never ever just ignore a limp. I’m all over it, palpating, watching, and worrying. If it doesn’t go away in a few days of rest, we are at the vet, pronto!

    We had one big alarm when Shyla started limping and had a lump on her bone when we first knew her. Holy moly, what a flashback moment. But, it turned out that she’d somehow fractured her ulna before she came to us… and that was the cause.
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  6. This is a very useful post.

    We learned not to ignore a limp and I’m glad that we went to the vet, because that’s when we learned that two of our dogs have early onset arthritis. Then we went through a period when we were trying to get their joint dosage right. Now they limp slightly if they over do it playing, but we still monitor their activity just in case.
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  7. Is phantom lameness a real thing for giant dog breeds? How about a growing puppy? My brown Newfie has been favoring his front left for almost a week now. It previously happened if he jumped out if the car but trainer recently told me that phantom lameness was a real thing.

  8. About a year we noticed that our dog started to limp after a long walk out in the snow. We took her to the vet immediately and after an x-ray we figured out she had a torn ACL. We discussed the different options with our and decided to opt of surgery and go with the conservative treatment, which was hard!! It meant restricting her activity as much as possible for 8 weeks. No playing, no jumping, it broke our hearts to see her lying on her bed all day but in the end we knew it was for her benefit!

    Our vet also recommended an Ortocanis dog knee brace to help stabilize her knee while the tissue repaired itself, and to keep the area warm with increased blood flow.

    The combination of the two worked for us. It’s been a year now and she’s as active and happy as ever!

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